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21 Best Over-the-Counter Retinol Serums, Creams, and Treatments You Can Buy Without a Prescription

Even still, this hasn’t completely spared many of us from going through quite a few retinoid rough patches or falling for common retinol myths. (News flash: They don’t increase your risk for developing sunburns, but you should obviously still wear SPF regardless.) Landing on a retinol that your skin won’t reject takes patience and knowledge, but most of the latter’s credit goes to the cosmetic chemists who’ve dreamed up innovative ways to deliver all the magic of this molecule without the cursed side effects. 

In our extensive search for non-irritating retinols, we’ve discovered plenty of standouts that are at once ultra-effective yet gentle enough for the retinoid-intolerant. What makes these non-Rx gems so transformative is that they all contain either pure retinol or a next-generation derivative shown to turn on those same aforementioned receptors to spark visible change.

Before we explore their individual merits, heed this brief buyer-beware: There are a ton of serums and oils on the market masquerading as retinols. You won’t find retinol (or any recognizable derivative) on their ingredient lists since as they rely on plant extracts, like rosehip oil, as alternate sources of vitamin A. 

“There is no evidence that natural sources of retinoids are safer than synthetic, and often their effectiveness is highly suspect,” according to cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos. For instance, she says that rosehip oil contains only about 0.4 parts per million (0.00004 percent) of retinoic acid, which is further diluted in the final product.

To help you sort the amazing products from their suspicious or just-average counterparts, keep scrolling for 21 of our favorite, dermatologist-approved retinol creams, serums, and treatments.

1. Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream

Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream

Kim recommends Drunk Elephant’s A-Passioni Retinol Cream, which contains 1 percent retinol encased in nourishing oils like passionfruit, apricot, jojoba, and marula. It also happens to a Best of Beauty Award winner, in case that sways you. However, “it’s important to note that 1 percent retinol is a relatively high concentration and could be irritating to people with sensitive skin, especially patients with eczema or rosacea,” Kim cautions. 

Like we talked about earlier, the ideal frequency is different for everyone, so start slow and small in terms of dosage and build up over the course of a few weeks. “I typically recommend patients apply a moisturizer on top to alleviate any potential dryness,” Kim adds.

2. Alastin Skincare Renewal Retinol .5

Alastin Skincare Renewal Retinol .5

New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Marina Peredo tells us that the retinol in Alastin Skincare’s Renewal Retinol .5 is encapsulated, which improves stability and allows for slower delivery over time. She adds that “the antioxidants, including hydroxymehtoxyphenyl decanone, supports [the production of] natural hyaluronic acid.” 

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